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Can a Magnesium Supplement Boost your Brainpower?

magnesium supplement for brain function

Is there such a thing as a magic pill that can enhance your brain? Could magnesium really be the answer to enhancing brainpower? Take a pill and boost your brain? Hmm, I’ve seen Limitless, but that was a movie, right? Things like that don’t happen in the real world! Or do they?

It’s no secret that magnesium is a vital nutrient. It’s used in over 600 biochemical functions in the body, it’s in your bones, it helps you produce energy and proteins, and it keeps your heart beating (1). However, research is now showing that magnesium improves memory and learning, and more importantly, when magnesium is deficient in the brain, which may be true in up to 80% of us, learning and memory can be significantly impaired (2).

magnesium improves memory and learningThe key thing in our ability to learn, as well as use our memory, is the brain’s ability to make connections between its neurons (cells that transmit signals around our brain and nervous system). This process is referred to as ‘brain plasticity,’ and the more quickly the brain can do this, or the more ‘plastic’ it is, the easier we can learn, think, memorize, form positive behavior patterns, and move away from negative ones.

The research into how magnesium affects brain plasticity started when researchers looked at brain cells grown in a petri dish in a lab, and they found that the brain cells were better able to connect together and grow in the presence of magnesium.

Ok, so a petri dish in a lab isn’t real life, so the researchers then started to look at the effects of magnesium in animals and humans. However, they hit upon another snag. If you’re growing brain cells in a petri dish, you can easily surround it with magnesium.

lab tests in petri dish to test magnesium activity on brainpowerHowever, with a person, you can’t inject magnesium directly into the brain. You either give it as an oral supplement, or you inject it intravenously. However, even when the researchers increased a person’s blood levels of magnesium by 400% by injecting intravenously, the brain levels of magnesium only went up by around 10%.

Obviously, injecting magnesium intravenously is not going to be practical for anyone on an ongoing basis. People need to be able to take it as a tablet or capsule. However, with standard oral supplements, you don’t get anything close to a 400% increase in blood magnesium levels, and there is virtually no increase in brain magnesium at all.

The issue is caused by the blood-brain barrier, a semipermeable protective membrane barrier that separates the circulating blood in the body from the fluid of the brain, which prevents oral magnesium supplements reaching the brain cells.

So to solve this problem, a group of international researchers from MIT, Tsinghua University (Beijing), and the University of Toronto developed an entirely new type of magnesium specifically designed to be able to pass the blood-brain barrier, that could be taken as a capsule. Enter Magnesium-L-Threonate. They then tested it and published their results in the highly prestigious journal Neurone (3).

Lab rats

They initially tested Magnesium-L-Threonate on rats who contrary to what you might think are actually very intelligent rodents. Rodents are natural students and excel at learning and understanding concepts. So that makes them great subjects to test learning ability on. They also don’t like water! So what researches did is designed a water maze that makes the rats run through to the end to get to a dry area. They were very motivated to get out of the wet and into the dry, so as they put the rats through the maze multiple times, they start learning their way out, and make successive journeys more quickly.
The scientists put the rats into four groups and gave the rats either Magnesium-L-Threonate, two different ordinary magnesium supplements, or nothing at all. They then measured their brain levels of magnesium and their ability to learn how to complete the maze.
The results showed that Magnesium-L-Threonate significantly raised brain levels of magnesium, whereas brain magnesium wasn’t raised in either the control group or the two ordinary magnesium groups. Also, the Magnesium-L-Threonate rats completed the maze much more quickly than any of the other groups, clearly showing a definite advantage in learning from Magnesium-L-Threonate.

evaluation of magnesium forms in brain


Another interesting finding was that in the Magnesium-L-Threonate group, there was a higher density of neurons in the hippocampus area of the brain. The hippocampus is the area most closely associated with memory, and also the area that sees the most significant decline in volume as we age. This loss of volume leads to age-induced memory loss. So the use of Magnesium-L-Threonate to prevent and treat age-induced memory loss is undoubtedly an exciting prospect.

So How Does Magnesium-L-Threonate Work?

Magnesium hangs out on receptors in the gap between nerve cells (known as the synapse). The receptor is called the NMDA receptor, which is essential for learning. The NMDA receptor gets activated by the neurotransmitter glutamate, which let’s calcium flow through the channel, which transfers the electrical signal or nerve connection between nerve cells (neurons) (4).

nmda receptor

The magnesium can stop the glutamate activating the receptor and opening ‘the gate’ for the calcium, so it acts a bit like a guard or a ‘bouncer.’ It can stop too much glutamate attaching to the receptors, too frequently, to prevent overstimulation of the neuron.

When the nerve cells are overstimulated, they aren’t firing their impulses normally, and so the connections they try to make are often unsuccessful. It’s a bit like a huge crowd, all trying to push through a turnstile without queueing properly; it just doesn’t work. Worse still, unchecked overstimulation due to a lack of magnesium can actually end up damaging the neurons, which cause more permanent problems and can hinder learning and memory over the long term.

Why do we have a lack of magnesium in the first place?

One of the big problems is that magnesium is much harder to come by in our diet today than it would have been for the vast majority of our evolution. Many of us have moved away from healthy and nutritious foods to processed foods devoid of magnesium and other nutrients. Also, in agriculture, as we develop quicker growing varieties to increase crop yields, the fruits and vegetables have less time in the ground to absorb nutrients from the soil. Even the good stuff we eat these days is less good than it was even 30 years ago when they took longer to grow (5).

Moreover, salt today is bleached white, which removes the magnesium. In contrast, full-spectrum salts such as Celtic sea salt or pink Himalayan salt contain magnesium (which is what our ancestors would have eaten). Even our drinking water has had the magnesium removed that’s present in mineral water. Another significant issue is the pace and stress of our modern world. Stress depletes magnesium from our bodies. Given all that, it’s hardly surprising that 80% are magnesium deficient.

The Solution to Magnesium Deficiency?

At Intelligent Labs, we have created what we believe to be a complete magnesium supplement available. It combines three different types of magnesium.

  • Firstly Magnesium-L-Threonate to increase brain levels of magnesium to allow you to supercharge your learning and memory.
  • Secondly, Magnesium Glycinate the most generally absorbable form of magnesium, which is the best form to correct any magnesium deficiency in the rest of the body outside the brain.
  • Lastly, Magnesium Taurate, which best allows the body to utilize magnesium’s role as a natural relaxer or ‘chill pill,’ better enabling us to relax, deal with stress, and improve our sleep.


(1) Magnesium in man: implications for health and disease. de Baaij JH, Hoenderop JG, Bindels RJ. Physiol Rev. 2015 Jan;95(1):1-46.

(2) The Magnesium Miracle, Carolyn Dean

(3) Enhancement of learning and memory by elevating brain magnesium. Slutsky I, Abumaria N, Wu LJ, Huang C, Zhang L, Li B, Zhao X, Govindarajan A, Zhao MG, Zhuo M, Tonegawa S, Liu G. Neuron. 2010 Jan 28;65(2):165-77.

(4) The mechanism of magnesium block of NMDA receptors
J.Peter Ruppersberg, Eberhard v. Kitzing, Ralf Schoepfer, Seminars in Neuroscience, Volume 6, Issue 2, April 1994, Pages 87-96

(5) Declining Fruit and Vegetable Nutrient Composition: What Is the Evidence?Donald R. Davis HortScience February 2009 vol. 44 no. 1 15-19